LSE Law School event featuring Benny Morris disrupted, sparks controversy

By Salome von Stolzmann

On Monday 4 March, the LSE Law department hosted a public lecture entitled ‘Rethinking 1948 and the Israeli Palestinian conflict’ in the Cheng Kin Ku (CKK) building, hosted by the Dean of LSE Law School Professor David Kershaw with guest Benny Morris. Prior to the event LSE staff and students voiced dissent with the Law department’s decision to invite Benny Morris as a speaker given his reputation as a radical historian and previous racist and xenophobic remarks.

The event started at 6:30 pm with strict entry requirements. Attendees were told to arrive 45 minutes early to allow time for security measures. In front of the CKK building students gathered to denounce the event and its speaker, affirming their support for a free Palestine and declaring that racism, apartheid, and Benny Morris have no place on campus. The event had relatively low attendance with less than a third of the Sheikh Zayed Theatre being occupied. Some students had reportedly booked tickets and boycotted the event.

As the event commenced, Kershaw took to the stage to address concerns voiced by students prior to the event. He explained that the Law department strives to provide different viewpoints on pressing issues and he welcomed students to critically engage with Benny Morris in the Q&A section of his talk to drive positive social change.

Kershaw’s speech was interrupted by a student criticising Kershaw’s decision to invite Morris to LSE’s campus, declaring, “Staff, students, and alumni have raised concerns about this event and its relevance in an institution which is supposedly interested in serious academic discussion. Hate speech is not academic freedom. Racism is not academic freedom. Kershaw you have failed your students and the LSE community. Hate speech off campus. Racism off campus. ”

Kershaw encouraged the student to finish his complaint. Momentarily after resuming his speech Kershaw was interrupted again by a student complaining about Morris’s past comments: “The person you have invited has openly espoused ethnic cleansing and genocide. Professor Morris has declared ‘there are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing.’ I refuse to debate whether Palestinians are human or not. I refuse to debate whether they are humans of equal worth.” As the student left the room in protest he was called a Nazi by a fellow attendee.

Morris was repeatedly interrupted by students criticising him and outlining his past controversies. Some attendees demanded that disruptors let Morris finish speaking. In response to another disruption, Morris shouted, “You’re boring, you’re actually quite boring.” A student countered: “You’re actually quite racist.” Morris then proclaimed, “I’d rather be a racist than a bore.” Students started chanting in response: “He’d rather be a racist than a bore.”

As the event continued and interruptions ensued, Kershaw accused students of being in breach of the Academic Code and asked them to leave the room; some attendees were escorted out by security.

The event concluded with a 45 minute Q&A which some students used to critically engage with Morris’s talk and past comments. Morris asserted that some of his quotes were either taken out of context or meant as a joke, reproaching students for being unable to take such jokes.

When asked about the controversy surrounding the event, an LSE spokesperson said: “Free speech and freedom of expression underpins everything we do at LSE. Students, staff and visitors are strongly encouraged to discuss and debate the most pressing issues around the world.

“LSE has clear policies in place to ensure the facilitation of debates and enable all members of our community to refute ideas lawfully, and to protect individual’s rights to freedom of expression within the law. This is formalised in our  Code of Practice on Free Speech and in our Ethics Code.”

“On Monday 4 March November, the LSE Law School hosted the historian and academic Benny Morris on ‘Rethinking 1949 and the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Despite some protests, the event took place as planned with Dr Morris speaking and taking questions from the LSE audience.”

Salome covers the Benny Morris speaker event


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